Nonfiction Proposals

If you write novel-length nonfiction, here’s the good news: you don’t have to write the whole book before you query. Instead, you write a proposal. Here’s the not-so-good news: crafting a winning proposal can take almost as much time as writing the whole book.

But fear not! Sub It Club is here to make the proposal-writing process as pain-free as possible. This month, I’ll provide a high-level breakdown of the nonfiction proposal. In future months, I’ll cover specific elements in more detail, like the audience, competitive analysis, and marketing plan. Within a few months, I hope you’ll be saying:


Let’s dive into the eight essential elements.

  • The Overview (or cover letter): This looks much like the picture book query letter I covered last month with Hannah Holt.
    • You include your hook, a captivating story that’s going to entice an agent or editor to read on. This can be the very same anecdote you use to start Chapter 1.
    • Then in a couple of sentences describe your book, including word count, genre and the key concepts the book will cover. In a second paragraph describe why the book is needed in the marketplace.
    • Finally, tell the agent or editor about you — the cook. You’ll go into far more detail in the About the Author section below, so you can keep it to a paragraph here.
  • Audience (also called Market Overview): Who will buy your book? Even if you are writing on a broad topic like George Washington, not everyone reads presidential biographies. Who is most likely to buy it? Your sister? Your grandpa? Describe this audience in as much detail as you can, including age, race, income, education level, marital status, and geography. Also describe the size of the potential audience. Use statistics to back up your claims.
  • Competitive Analysis (or what else is already out there?): When pitching a new nonfiction book, you must know what’s already been written on the subject and exactly how your book differs (and of course, will sell much better). Research competitive titles online and in bookstores, and then provide the title, author, publisher, and publication year for each. Finally write a sentence or two about how your book fills a gap left by the previously published book.
  • Marketing (or Promotional) PlanHow will potential buyers know about your book? When crafting publicity efforts, be specific. Don’t say, “I will write a press release announcing my book.” Where will you send the press release and when? How many of your target market read that publication or listen to that radio show? Try to estimate the number of potential buyers each marketing action will reach. Also, if there are additional sales outlets beyond traditional brick and mortar bookstores and online behemoths, describe those in the marketing plan.
  • About the Author: A major part of the nonfiction proposal is your platform. You must convince the publisher that YOU and only you can write this book. Your platform includes all of your expertise related to the book topic. This may be work and educational experience, professional organizations, past publications on the topic, etc. If you have a major online audience/following or conduct classes or workshops related to the topic, this is part of your platform too.
  • Outline: Write a concise Table of Contents followed by a detailed outline of each chapter. For each chapter you will write a paragraph or even a page describing everything the chapter will cover.
  • Bibliography: List all your research sources like interviews, periodicals, newspapers, books, and Web sites. If you need help formatting your citations, online citation generators like EasyBib are available. If your nonfiction is illustrated, list sources for photos and other artwork here too.
  • Sample chapters: You need to write one to three sample chapters, depending upon the agent or editor’s guidelines. Typically, the less established you are, the more sample material you may be required to write. These must to be polished. Get your sample chapters critiqued through a critique group or send them to beta readers, and revise, revise, revise. 

Stay tuned for next month, when I cover in more detail how to write your Audience/ Market Overview section.



10 thoughts on “Nonfiction Proposals

Add yours

  1. WOW! Thank you, Kirsten, for this informational post about nonfiction proposals. I’m looking forward to more posts.


Thoughts? Questions? Comments? We want to hear them!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: